If you do make a trip to Washington, here are some suggestions for making it a success:
- Make an appointment as far in advance as possible. And be organized--it doesn't matter whether you're seeing a staffer, a senator or your representative. Listen to the advice of Patricia Forbes, minority staff director and chief counsel for the Senate Committee on Small Business: "When people come in," she says, "they must understand that everybody is very busy. Be organized and figure out your top three to five points, make them, say thank you and leave. You should leave behind only one page of information but offer more if the person is interested. Most important, don't misrepresent your position or use incorrect data; it undercuts you completely."
- Find strength in numbers. The voice of one becomes much louder and better-heard when it's joined by others. Forbes explains: "It's hard to lobby for an issue if you're the only one who cares. Sixty letters make more of an impact than just one. You should mobilize if you can. Memberships in organizations such as trade or small-business groups are good for that purpose."
Jeanne Morin, a principal of Washington, DC, lobbying firm Jefferson Government Relations who has worked on the House Small Business Committee, agrees. "If your issue is common to others, that can help you deliver your message," she says. "I strongly recommend getting involved with an association."
It's imperative you know how many others are on your side of an issue. The easiest way to do that may well be through a trade association. In any kind of lobbying effort, you want to bring as much breadth and strength to it as you can. If you can mobilize other entrepreneurs, you have a better chance of getting somewhere. Associations are also helpful in keeping you updated on legislative actions and issues. They often provide regular updates by fax, e-mail and on the Internet.
Lobbying--make no mistake--is hard work. But it's possible to take an issue critical to your business all the way to Capitol Hill and get results. Listen to Kerrigan: "Don't forget, as a business owner, you're important to your lawmakers because you create jobs. You're seen as a leader. You're not grass roots; as we say in Washington, you're grass tops."